READ: Matthew 12:33-42
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.
34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.
39 But he answered them, An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.
40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
When I was young (usually the words "and foolish" go with "young") I was terribly insecure about being "me" in public. I was very aware that I just didn't know the right thing to say in most situations, and it made me very nervous. The more nervous I got that I might say the wrong thing, the more likely it was that was exactly what was about to happen. It was like some horrid self-fulfilling prophecy, and I felt sure I was doomed to have repeated experiences where I would open my mouth and flies would come out. Invariably these moments would make me feel even more foolish than I already imagined I was.
One evening when I was dating Jama we went to a restaurant in New Haven for dinner. Our table wasn't ready, so we went to sit at the bar. This was a very unnatural experience for me. I don't know if she knows this even now, but that was only the second time in my LIFE I had ever sat at a bar. The first time was on a first (and last) date with a girl I really liked when I was in graduate school in Ohio. But she was into the singles scene and I really didn't know how to have a drink with a friend. Eh... I was geeky and awkward.
Anyway, we sat down at the bar... the bartender approached us... and maybe it was because I wasn't comfortable in a bar or because I wasn't comfortable with a girl or because I wasn't comfortable in public or just because I was young and foolish, but I instantly said, "You're ugly" to the bartender. It was the worst example I can imagine of this sort of thing, and it made me wonder if I had Turrett's Syndrome or something.
But things like that aren't said in malice. I was, and am still mortified that I could have ever said anything so ungracious. My heart broke within me at the thought of it, and it was hard to recover from the incident. I'm just not a cruel person.
Over the years I have said many unguarded things to people. I still fear those moments, though I think that as you get older you do learn to curb your tongue just a little. I've told you this story because I want you to have a model for what Jesus is saying in this passage. It isn't the person who says stupid things without thinking that Jesus is chiding. It is the person who is cruel and knows they are cruel and doesn't care that they are cruel Jesus is after. It is the person who does not learn from their error or who does what they do with evil intent: this is the person Jesus has a harsh word for here.
Really, the end of a person of evil intent is that they are done in by their own words. God doesn't have to condemn any of us. We do it to ourselves because we refuse to listen, grow, or learn. I dare say there are a large number of Bible-believing inflexible evangelicals who will be sharing Hell with all the other "sinners" they had hard words for. But we'll need to wait about 10 chapters to hear more on that. For now it is enough to say, "You want a SIGN?" Be careful what you ask for.
Pastoral Relief and Retreat
- Wethersfield, CT, United States
- I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.